The House has passed legislation reviving a ban on certain semi-automatic firearms in response to hundreds of mass shootings in the US this year.
It was the first vote of its kind in years and has been dismissed by Republicans as a ‘gun grab’ that will curtail American’s freedom.
Once banned in the US, high powered semi-automatic assault rifles are now the weapon of choice for young men behind the most devastating mass shootings.
Congress allowed the restrictions first put in place in 1994 on the manufacture and sales of the weapons to expire a decade later.
It was unable to muster the political support to counter the powerful gun lobby and reinstate the weapons ban.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi pushed the vote toward passage in the Democratic-run House, saying the earlier ban ‘saved lives’.
Hailing yesterday’s House vote, President Joe Biden said: ‘The majority of the American people agree with this common sense action.’
The POTUS urged the Senate to ‘move quickly to get this bill to my desk’, but it is likely to stall in the 50-50 upper chamber.
Republicans are shunning the legislation, dismissing it as an election-year strategy by Democrats. Almost all GOP members voted against the House bill, which passed 217-213.
The bill comes at a time of intensifying concerns about gun violence and shootings, including the supermarket shooting in Buffalo, the massacre of school children in Uvalde, and the July Fourth shootings in Highland Park.
Voters seem to be taking such election-year votes seriously as Congress splits along party lines and lawmakers are forced to go on the record with their views.
A recent vote to protect same-sex marriages from potential Supreme Court legal challenges won a surprising amount of bipartisan support.
Biden was instrumental in helping secure the first semi-automatic weapons ban as a senator in 1994.
His administration said that for 10 years, while the ban was in place, mass shootings declined.
‘When the ban expired in 2004, mass shootings tripled,’ his office said in a statement.
Republicans stood firmly against limits on ownership of the high-powered firearms during an at times emotional debate ahead of voting.
‘It’s a gun grab, pure and simple,’ said Pennsylvania representative Guy Reschenthaler.
Gun store owner and Georgia representative Andrew Clyde added: ‘An armed America is a safe and free America.’
Democrats argued that the ban on the weapons makes sense, portraying Republicans as extreme and out of step with Americans.
Massachusetts Democratic representative Jim McGovern said the weapons ban is not about taking away Americans’ Second Amendment rights.
Rather, he said it was about ensuring that children also have the right ‘to not get shot in school’.
Pelosi displayed a poster of a gun company’s advertisement for children’s weapons.
She said the idea of smaller versions resembling popular AR-15 rifles being marketed with cartoon-like characters is ‘disgusting’.
‘Your freedom stops where mine begins, and that of my constituents begins,’ Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur told Republican Jim Jordan in a tense exchange.
‘Schools, shopping malls, grocery stores, Independence Day parades shouldn’t be scenes of mass carnage and bloodshed,’ she said.
Jordan replied by inviting her to his congressional district to debate him on the Second Amendment.
He said he believed most of his constituents ‘probably agree with me and agree with the United States Constitution’.
The bill would make it unlawful to import, sell or manufacture a long list of semi-automatic weapons.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, a Democrat representing New York, said it includes an exemption that allows for the possession of existing semi-automatic guns.
Reps. Chris Jacobs of New York and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania were the only Republicans to vote for the measure.
The Democratic lawmakers voting no were Reps. Kurt Schrader of Oregon, Henry Cuellar of Texas, Jared Golden of Maine, Ron Kind of Wisconsin and Vicente Gonzalez of Texas.
For nearly two decades, since the previous ban expired Democrats had been reluctant to revisit the issue and confront the gun lobby.
But voter opinions appear to be shifting and Democrats dared to act before the fall election.
NRA Institute for Legislative Action executive director Jason Quimet said gun control advocates are ‘spearheading an assault upon the freedoms and civil liberties of law-abiding Americans’.
He said the bill potentially bans millions of firearms ‘in blatant opposition to the Supreme Court’s rulings’ that have established gun ownership as an individual right and expanded on it.
Among the semi-automatic weapons banned would be some 200-plus types of semi-automatic rifles, including AR-15s, and pistols. The restrictions would not apply to many other models.
Democrats had tried to link the weapons ban to a broader package of public safety measures that would have increased federal funding for law enforcement.
It’s something centrist Democrats in tough re-election campaigns wanted to shield them from political attacks by their Republican opponents they are soft on crime.
Pelosi said the House will revisit the public safety bills in August when lawmakers are expected to return briefly to Washington to handle other remaining legislation.
Congress passed a modest gun violence prevention package just last month in the aftermath of the tragic shooting of 19 school children and two teachers in Uvalde.
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That bipartisan bill was the first of its kind after years of failed efforts to confront the gun lobby, including after a similar 2012 mass tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
It provides for expanded background checks on young adults buying firearms, allowing authorities to access certain juvenile records.
The law also closes the so-called ‘boyfriend loophole’ by denying gun purchases for those convicted of domestic abuse outside of marriages.
It also frees up federal funding to the states, including for ‘red flag’ laws that enable authorities to remove guns from those who would harm themselves or others.
But there’s still plenty of uncertainty over the future of gun rights in the US.
Biden signed the measure two days after the Supreme Court’s ruling striking down a New York law that restricted people’s ability to carry concealed weapons.
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